The Protectability of Application Program Interfaces: Oracle America v. Google
19 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2012 Last revised: 15 Aug 2015
Date Written: August 14, 2015
In May 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) in Oracle America v. Google ruled that Google infringed Oracle’s copyright when Google replicated the Java application program interface in the Android application program interface. In July 2015, the Supreme Court rejected Google’s petition for a writ of certiorari, and the case was remanded to the district court, which now will determine whether Google’s actions were permitted under the fair use doctrine.
A final determination that Google infringed Oracle’s copyrights could have a negative impact on the development of interoperable systems. It could signal the extension of copyright protection to program elements necessary for interoperability. This would allow a company that develops a platform that becomes an industry standard to use copyright law to control the ability of other companies to develop their own programs that attach to or compete with that platform. At the same time, Oracle and other large software companies have argued that the decision ensures that software companies receive a return on their investment in the development of software, which in turn will incentivize further innovative activity.
This article describes the facts and the holdings of the trial court in favor of Google. It then reviews the CAFC decision reversing the trial court. The article analyzes the decision, identifying several troubling legal conclusions. Finally, the article explores the arguments made before the Supreme Court.
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